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#185882 - 11/22/08 11:17 PM Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots.  
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I wrote an article about using clicker training to help manage very aggressive cockatoos for "Parrots" magazine, Nov. 2008. The parrot in question was extremely aggressive and had been through seven homes for attacking people. It might help some people so I thought I'd post it here!


Clicker Training as a Tool to Help Manage Aggressive Parrots

By: Garnet (aka "Jessie")


I still have the scars from where Fergus, a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, bit me several times during a bizarre frenzy. I agreed to foster him for a local parrot rescue and the first thing he did when I let him out of his cage was fly towards me and bite me several times on my hands and arms. In his last home, he had done the same thing to several people. How could such a parrot be rehabilitated? I certainly couldn’t force Fergus to step up nicely onto my hand and allow me to handle him. His bites were also too painful for me to simply ignore. However, I didn’t want him to live his whole life in a cage. I did have the option of having him sent to a new foster home, but I really began to wonder if there was a way I could get him to like being around people so he wouldn’t drive them away by biting. I decided to do some clicker training with him, so I could hopefully show him that interacting with me could be enjoyable. I took this approach because clicker training can be used to teach new behaviours to companion animals, it is humane, it often helps calm nervous or aggressive animals, and it can be done while an animal is in a cage. It’s the method that people who train birds or dolphins for shows at zoos use and it’s based on many scientific studies on how animals learn. So, I hoped it would help decrease Fergus’ aggressive behaviours by teaching him how to behave around people.

The Basics of Clicker Training

Just what is clicker training? Clicker training is based on the principle that behaviours which are reinforced will increase in frequency while ones that are not will decrease. Very little of a parrot’s behaviour is completely inflexible, because parrots will keep behaviours that result in consequences they find rewarding, such as those that result in their getting attention or treats. Some behaviours, like preening, are simply self-rewarding. Behaviours that always result in unpleasant or neutral consequences will decrease in frequency until they disappear.

Reinforcement timing is an important part of clicker training. The faster the reinforcement occurs after the behaviour, the faster the animal will learn to increase that behaviour. There are two basic types of reinforcement that animals can learn from: positive and negative. Positive reinforcement occurs when a positive stimulus is presented right after the behaviour. The stimulus must increase the future likelihood of the behaviour occurring; otherwise it’s not truly a reinforcer. For example, giving a sunflower seed to a bird who steps up on a hand would be positive reinforcement if it made the bird more likely to step up in the future. However, it may not be reinforcing if the bird isn’t hungry at the moment. Negative reinforcement occurs when a negative stimulus is removed when the animal presents the desired behaviour. If a bird steps up on a person’s hand to avoid being pushed on his chest, then he’s learned step-up through negative reinforcement.

Another important aspect of clicker training involves the use of conditioned reinforcers. A conditioned reinforcer is one that an animal has to learn to find reinforcing, and here’s where the clicker comes in. A clicker is a small box with a button on it that makes a click when it is pressed. In clicker training, the sound of a clicker must be paired with the presentation of a treat. The treat is the primary reinforcer, because the bird naturally likes it, but a click can become reinforcing to the animal if he associates treats or other positive things with it. The clicker is sometimes referred to as a bridge, because it bridges the time between the behaviour and the delivery of the reward.

Why use a Clicker?

So, why use a clicker at all? Why not use treats to indicate to the animal what behaviours are wanted? It’s because to let an animal know that what he’s doing is correct, he must be reinforced exactly as the behaviour occurs. Often, delivering a treat or head scratch takes a bit of time, and by the time it has been delivered, the animal has done something else, such as lifting his head. A click is short and can be easy to deliver right as the behavior occurs.

Charging the Clicker

The process of getting an animal to associate a click with positive things is often called “charging” the clicker. This is very easy to do. Just click, and offer a treat immediately after the click sounds. Only a few repetitions are really needed to “charge” the clicker in this manner. I used only ten or so repetitions to charge the clicker when I started training Fergus.

Of course, a clicker does not have to be used as the conditioned reinforcer. Any short sound will do; however a clicker is often used because it is short, easy to deliver, and few other sounds in the environment sound exactly like it. Some people use words or tongue-clicks as conditioned reinforcers. Trainers of marine mammals, like dolphins, often use a loud whistle, and people have even trained fish using lights as conditioned reinforcers.

Choosing a Reinforcer

What are the best things to use as primary reinforcers? Food is the obvious one, and a good way to figure out what food treat is most reinforcing to a parrot is to place a mix of foods in a bowl and see which one the parrot picks out first. Most birds love seeds, millet, or nuts, but dried papaya, pieces of grape, single peas, or kernels of corn are often reinforcing to birds as well. Generally, a type of food that is used as a treat will make the best reinforcer. If the type of food used in training sessions is available to the bird at all times, then he may not be very motivated to work for it. However, some animals will gladly work for pellets. Since Fergus eagerly took sunflower seeds from my hand, I used those as reinforcers.

Use small, bite-sized pieces during training. That way, the parrot can quickly eat the food and he won’t become satiated as rapidly, so more repetitions of the behaviour can be performed during the session. Training sessions are best done before or a couple hours after a meal, so the bird will be motivated by the treats. A few training manuals I have seen mention food restriction as a part of training birds; however, this is not necessary to train pet parrots. Most professional trainers do not recommend food restriction for training pets because all that’s needed is good timing of the training sessions. If obesity is a concern, feed your parrot a slight bit less for breakfast and dinner.

Food is probably the most common reinforcer used in training animals, but there are other possibilities. Toys, praise, or petting can be reinforcers. However, using toys or petting can make it take a bit more time to train the bird, since they can require more time to present than a treat. They also must be taken away or stopped at some point, and some birds may perceive that as punishment, as a positive stimulus has to be taken away. These things may also not be reinforcing to each bird: if no progress is being made, then it may be time to try a new potential reinforcer. After all, something which is reinforcing to one bird may not be reinforcing to another. A gregarious bird that associates praise with positive experiences may enjoy praise but one who has received little socialization with people may not be reinforced by praise. Tailor your training strategy for your specific bird.

What about Punishment?

I never dealt harshly with Fergus or acted domineering with him. I don’t do this with any of my parrots because training is best done with a friendly attitude and by using positive reinforcement as much as possible. Animals, including people, learn faster when trying to receive rewards rather than avoid punishment. It is also more humane to teach animals using positive reinforcement. Additionally, the way most people punish animals rarely works. To be effective, a punishment must occur immediately after the unwanted behaviour. For example, some people place screaming birds back in their cages to discourage the screaming. However, by the time the bird gets to the cage, he has already been picked up and moved, and he may not associate his “banishment” with the screaming. Using punishment can have other fall outs as well. The animal could become afraid of the owner, which will make subsequent training sessions ineffective. The animal could also start to bite the owner to drive him away if he associates the owner with frightening things.

Now that I’ve said that, I must note that, technically, when a trainer withholds treats from an animal who is displaying a behaviour that the trainer wants to extinguish, he is technically “punishing” the animal. In clicker training jargon, there are two forms of punishment: positive and negative. Positive punishment should be avoided as much as possible; this involves applying a stimulus that the animal finds unpleasant. Negative punishment is different in that it involves removing something the animal finds reinforcing. Basically, in this context, “positive” refers to adding something and “negative” refers to removing something. Walking away with your treats from a parrot that screams is a form of negative punishment. Obviously, we can’t reinforce all behaviours, but during training sessions, try to set your parrot up for success: don’t give cues you don’t think he’ll respond to, and don’t hold a session when he’s tired.

The best thing about clicker training is that it can help reduce unwanted behaviours, because a trainer can reinforce behaviours that are incompatible with the unwanted behaviour. For example, teaching a bird to talk can help reduce screaming, since he can’t talk and scream at the same time. Talking can be reinforced, while screaming can be ignored. Providing chew toys can help too, since few birds can scream and chew a toy simultaneously.

Getting Started

A very useful first behaviour to teach a bird is to target. This is the first behaviour I taught Fergus because I could teach it to him while he was in his cage and he couldn’t attack me. “Targeting” is when an animal touches his nose or other body part to the end of an object such as a stick. With birds, this tends to involve teaching the bird to lightly touch the end of a stick with his beak. The target stick should not be similar to one of the bird’s perches, in case he tries to step up on it. I used the end of a wooden spoon as a target for Fergus to touch.

Many birds, like Fergus, will immediately poke their nose to the target stick to investigate it. If this happens, immediately click and treat the bird. If your bird hangs on to the stick, try clicking right before the bird touches the target and remove the target right after it’s been touched. Once the bird is touching the stick reliably, make him stretch a bit to touch the stick. Once that is done reliably, make him take a step, then two steps, and so on. Try having him go left or right, and practice the behaviour in many different areas, with different distractions.

I did this with Fergus, who was an unbelievably fast learner. After one week, he would touch the target even if he had to climb to the other side of the cage or to the cage floor to reach it. I initially trained him while he was caged, but two weeks after his initial attack on me, I let him out of his cage again and he didn’t try to bite me. I began target training him while he was on his cage and he continued to focus on learning. He never bit or attacked me again during the three more months I had him. I suspect he learned that interacting with me could be rewarding, so he no longer wanted to drive me away with bites. I was also sure to provide him with lots of chew toys he could focus on while he was out of his cage.

What about a bird that seems reluctant to touch the stick? I ran into this problem with Ripley, my Red-lored Amazon. Here’s where shaping (or successive approximation) can be useful. Before you shape a behaviour, define what you want the end behaviour to look like. Then, start to teach the behaviour in small parts. For shaping targeting, start by finding out how close the stick can get to the bird before he starts to show fear. Keep the stick in that area initially. Then, start to click him just for looking at the stick, then for moving towards it, and then for bumping it. Doing this, it took me about six sessions to get Ripley to reliably touch the stick. The average training sessions with my parrots last ten to fifteen minutes, but they can be longer or shorter. It all depends on how long the parrot can keep his interest, and I always try to end on a positive note.

Targeting can be very useful for teaching other behaviours, many of which are useful for basic husbandry tasks. For example, I taught Fergus to go back in his cage using his target stick. The key to this was that, for the first few times Fergus went into the cage to touch the target stick, I did not close the door. When I did finally close the door, I gave him a “jack pot,” or a bigger than normal amount of treats. Teaching Fergus to willingly go in his cage made him much easier to manage. Birds can also be trained to stand on a scale or go in a carrier through guidance with a target. I used targeting to get Fergus to stand on a scale at the veterinarian’s office.

Training Step Up

“Step-up” is the cue most parrot owners give to get their parrots to step onto their hands, and this is often the first thing that bird owners teach their birds. It is indeed a very useful thing to teach, but for very aggressive birds, I recommend doing target training first. The target then can be used to guide the bird onto a hand-held perch, hand, or arm.

Many birds who do not step up on cue end up being labeled stubborn, dominant, or spoiled. What is often the case is that the bird really hasn’t been taught what the cue “step up” really means, or he hasn’t been taught to respond to it in a variety of situations. If your bird is like this, try teaching him to respond to the cue “step up” using only positive reinforcement.

To train a step up using positive reinforcement, start at the beginning using shaping, or luring with a target or treat. To shape a step up (on a perch or hand), first reward the bird for looking at the perch, then for moving towards it, placing a foot on it, and so on. Once the bird steps up, then he may not be comfortable being moved around on the hand. Again, use small steps: reward him for allowing you to move your hand a bit with him on it, and gradually move up to you walking to different areas of the house with him on the hand.

Fading the Target

When using a target to coax a behavior out of a bird, such as using one to lure him onto a hand, be sure to start fading the use of the target as soon as possible. Otherwise, the bird will focus on the target rather than the behaviour itself. Gradually make the target smaller, and/or use the same hand gestures used with the target, but don’t use the target. Add a verbal cue, and use it consistently with and without using the target.

Capturing

Many owners with talking birds enjoy teaching them to say words on cue. For example, Fergus could say “Hello!” and I wanted to teach him to say back it when I said “Hello” to him. What I had to do was capture the behaviour, or wait for it to occur on its own, and reinforce it when it happens. So, when Fergus said “Hello,” I clicked and treated him.

When I got Fergus offering “Hellos!”, and I felt I could predict when he was going to say it, I added my cue, “Hello.” To get the behaviour under stimulus control, I clicked and treated he said, “Hello,” in response to my “Hello.” Soon, he began to figure out that he got treats when he said, “Hello” when I did. This was just a cute behaviour to teach him, but in doing so, I could spend time interacting with him in a positive manner, which I felt enriched his life.

Conclusion

Clicker training is a very effective, humane way to train any animal. It’s also a great way to enrich a parrot’s life, as most learn to enjoy training sessions. Additionally, it can be used to effectively communicate with your pet and let him know what behaviours you would like him to do. I taught Fergus how to act around me and that he didn’t need to drive me away by biting. His story here winds up with a happy ending: He learned to enjoy out of cage time and he was eventually adopted by a kind couple who were also interested in clicker training. This meant I could continue to foster birds, and the bird that I’m fostering at the time of writing is yet another teenaged male Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo named Mitri. He’s also enjoying his clicker training lessons.

Sidebar One:


Further Reading

Ellen K. Cook, DVM. 2006. How Positive Reinforcement Saved a Cockatoo’s Life. Good Bird Magazine. Vol 3, No. 1. (This article gave me hope that clicker training could help Fergus, as the author used this approach with her Moluccan Cockatoo that often bit her).

Barbara Heidenreich. 2005. The Parrot Problem Solver: Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior. TFH Publications, Neptune, NJ.

Melinda Johnson. 2006. Clicker Training for Birds (Getting Started). Sunshine Books, Inc. – Karen Pryor Clicker Training. Weston, MA.

Karen Pryor. 1999. Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training. (Revised Edition) Bantam Books, New York, NY. (This book is not specifically about dogs or birds, but is about the general principles behind clicker training).

Sidebar Two:

Commonly Asked Questions about Clicker Training.

Q: Isn’t this bribery?


A: No, because the reward generally comes after the behaviour and it is not shown to the animal before hand, unless it is being used as a lure.

Q. Do I have to keep treats with me all the time?

A: No. You also do not need to use the clicker once the behaviour you want is performed on cue. The clicker is primarily used during the learning stages. However, be sure to periodically offer treats for behaviours like stepping up, and always offer reinforcement after using a click.

Q: I have lots of birds. Will they know who the click is for?

A: Most likely. Many animals can figure out that the click is for them only if the trainer is paying attention to them.

Q: What if my bird imitates the clicker?

A: Don’t worry about it. Just keep going and ignore it.

Q: I can’t juggle the treats, the target stick and the clicker. Help!

A: I got around this by holding the clicker and the target stick in one hand, with the clicker in my palm. One could also forgo the clicker and use a word as a bridge. Just be consistent with which word you use and the tone it is said in.

#185883 - 11/22/08 11:20 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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YUP It is totally fine. I actually just made it a sticky. Very good reading Garnet.Thank You!


Jan

Sometimes damaged goods are the best gifts the world has to offer
#185886 - 11/22/08 11:47 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Janny]  
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Thanks for posting Garnet - great information!


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#185926 - 11/23/08 07:38 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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Great guide, Garnet! Thanks for sharing that here, it really discusses clicker training in a straight forward manner and is very complete with the Q&A at the end! For anyone interested in clicker training, this will be a valuable tool.

#185939 - 11/23/08 05:44 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Charlie]  
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Great article and added to my bookmarks !


Deborah
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#185978 - 11/24/08 01:28 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: FeatheredAngels]  
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Garnet, I think you did an absolutely wonderful job of explaining clicker training in a short, to-the-point way; without missing anything important. There are many people who find the jargon confusing, and the wealth of information daunting, and I bet many of them will be able to read your article and apply the principles, improving their interactions with their birds. Thank you so much for sharing.


~ Nikki

The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience. -Leo Tolstoy
#186008 - 11/24/08 01:52 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Cassie's_girl]  
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thanks. Didn't know the interval between desirable behavior and offering the treat was so short and didn't understand the point of clicker training. This article is such a help to me and will be ordering my clicker today.


Pat

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#186038 - 11/24/08 08:02 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Cleo's Mom]  
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Great article! I might have to try clicker training. Does anyone know where clickers can be ordered from?

#186040 - 11/24/08 08:06 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: bambu101]  
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I was going to post a link to somewhere that you can buy clickers but there are so many with a google search that I'll let you find one in your area!! smile

You can also use a bic pen, or a bread tag and your thumbnail.

If your bird is scared of the 'click', wrap it in a dish towel at first.

I love clicker training, Bill will beg for it if he sees the clicker. One day I'll have to posta video of him doing his 'tricks'

Garnet, that is a great article.

If anyone needs more info on it join the 'bird-click' group on yahoo groups. They will walk you through almost any trouble you have. It's simple, but there are subtle things that take learning.


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#186046 - 11/24/08 08:24 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: spinnyspoo]  
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Jesse I'm impressed, excellent article! Very well written and to the point. I wish I could be as articulate as you are when explaining things. Clicker training is now used with just about all zoo animals. It's mainly used for desensitizing animals to vet appointments and procedures. A great tool in being able to do a visual observation on an animal that you can't or shouldn't touch. A wonderful tool in teaching animals to accept needed vaccines without having to be restrained or sedated. Along with Cassie I've participated in clicker training with gorillas, lemurs, coyote, African Wild Dog, pygmy hippo, raptors, leopard, and an assortment of other critters. An invaluable tool once you get the hang of it. Nancy


Nancy & Cassie BE2
#186206 - 11/26/08 02:08 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: BE2Cassie]  
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Thanks everyone!

Most big pet stores have clickers, but pens can work too. I had to get a clicker with an adjustable volume for Ripley, who got really startled by the louder clicks.

Mitri, my new cockatoo (we decided to adopt him) has really taken to the clicker training but it took a while to really get him rolling. It's because he was very slow initially to take treats from me. He'd first focus his eyes on the treat without moving his head. Then, he'd slowly move his beak towards the treat, pausing just before touching it. He'd stick his tongue out and carefully feel the treat before finally taking it.

After a lot of that, he finally realized that the treats are safe. I've run into a few Moluccans who are cautious like that too.

#191669 - 02/01/09 09:59 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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I just wanted to say thank you for posting the article (and for the yahoo bird-clicker group). I've been able to work with Fancy using clicker training and we're making progress. This has been invaluable to our relationship and to helping her become, and feel, part of the flock.

Juliana


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#191779 - 02/02/09 06:38 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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Jessie: Great article. I have been using clicker training to get "closer" to an African Grey who wants no part of me except any part she can reach with her beak. so far, so good, except that she learned to mimic the clicker sound, and gives herself emotional rewards all day. I have switched to a laser pointer that I shine on the wall when she is due a reward. So far, she hasn't figured out how to generate a laser light (but give her time, she's really smart!).

#191799 - 02/02/09 08:09 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: GeriDoc]  
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Quote:
she learned to mimic the clicker sound, and gives herself emotional rewards all day.


ROFLMAO!

#191954 - 02/03/09 03:31 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Charlie]  
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Garnet, I just read your article on the way home yesterday. It is excellent!!! Well written, easy to understand. I really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, I am not disciplined enough to be a good clicker trainer. I've taught my birds to target and that's about it. I start out with really good intentions but I'm very easily side-tracked. LOL

Bev


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#192141 - 02/05/09 05:45 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: ZazuSally]  
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Brewster chewed up my clicker...


Gail
#192234 - 02/05/09 07:40 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Bird Mom]  
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I think I'll try this with China. However, she won't take food from me. She does respond to praise so I will try using that.

I think in a way she is already being "clicker trained" by me. We taught her to dance and she learned to ask for music when she first came to us. I taught her "peek-a-boo" last night in all of 5 minutes and now she does it on command with nothing more than praise.

I've also been completely ignoring her when I approach the cage and she starts panicking and instead once she starts getting jittery I start saying "Dance, China" then singing to her (which for some strange reason she likes my awful singing voice) and redirecting her fear into something she likes. She's learning to dance when I approach rather than panic.

I was doing these things because they felt natural but now after reading your wonderful article, I'm going to combine what I've been doing with the awesome advice you've outlined.

Thank you!

#194141 - 02/26/09 07:59 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: tribrats]  
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Originally Posted By: tribrats
I think I'll try this with China. However, she won't take food from me. She does respond to praise so I will try using that.

I think in a way she is already being "clicker trained" by me. We taught her to dance and she learned to ask for music when she first came to us. I taught her "peek-a-boo" last night in all of 5 minutes and now she does it on command with nothing more than praise.

I've also been completely ignoring her when I approach the cage and she starts panicking and instead once she starts getting jittery I start saying "Dance, China" then singing to her (which for some strange reason she likes my awful singing voice) and redirecting her fear into something she likes. She's learning to dance when I approach rather than panic.

I was doing these things because they felt natural but now after reading your wonderful article, I'm going to combine what I've been doing with the awesome advice you've outlined.

Thank you!


I wanted to add one thing to the original article and also reply to this response:

I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea of rewarding with treats and I usually don't suggest it to others either. When you're dealing with an animal who has been domesticated for generations over thousands of years, and who's IQ is the size of a peanut, then clicker training is a great method to use. People who respect birds, though, respect their intelligence. To use this same method on a bird can be considered degrading and insulting.

Dr. Irene Pepperberg has proven time and again in her studies with Alex, how intelligent a bird can be. Her reward while teaching Alex wasn't in the form of snacks, but in the mental stimulation that was provided by performing those actions.

Dr. Jan Hooimeijer is also a large supporter of rewarding their intelligence rather than their stomaches. He doesn't give a bird treats if they do something good, he simply praises them and continues offering more challenges. He also sets them up for success - takes a behavior already offered by the bird and converts it into a wanted behavior.

What you've done in with China is the perfect example of this reward system, believe it or not! You take behavior she naturally does, convert it into a wanted behavior and reward her with praise and more challenges. Of course now you're stuck on the endless treadmill of teaching her more and more smile


"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated"
#194146 - 02/26/09 03:20 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: ParrotPerson]  
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I have to disagree. Would you work for nothing? And even if you absolutely love your job, you need money for food and shelter. Giving a bird a food reward for a wanted behaviour is a win-win situation and it has nothing to do with their intelligence. Too many people have problem behaviours with their birds and you can't compare the average bird owner with Irene Pepperberg or Dr. Hooimeijer. That's what they do for a living.

I can guarantee you that I would be taking a lot more bites right now if I did not reward my birds with food. I do what works for me and my birds. Zazu is more motivated by secondary reinforcers so that's what I use. And the clicker is just a tool, no more, no less. Enough birds are getting dumped without taking away a viable option for teaching our birds wanted behaviours since we are the ones who inadvertently teach them unwanted behaviours.


Bev

Last edited by ZazuSally; 02/26/09 03:23 PM. Reason: added something

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#194148 - 02/26/09 03:44 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: ZazuSally]  
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I have seen Dr Pepperburgs training films with Alex and also with Griffon. I also had the opportunity to see her presentation. She does use treats during her training sessions paired with verbal praise. I believe that reinforcement should be tailored to the animal/bird/person you are training. What is reinforcement for that specific individual? I've worked with numerous animals and birds doing training sessions and used a variety of reinforcers both edible and nonedible. Cassie is not food motivated but is praise motivated. She loves clapping and cheering. A U2 I worked with would do anything for a peanut. A Rainbow Lorie loved his bath or being swung through the air. Sometimes it's a favored toy with an animal. The most important thing with training is respecting the wishes/likes of the trainee while attempting to reach the desired behavior.
Nancy


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#194150 - 02/26/09 04:13 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: ParrotPerson]  
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I really must disagree with your statements. The basis of clicker training and Dr. Pepperberg's training are both based on applied behavior analysis. The difference is in the consequence being a treat or praise.

Primary and secondary reinforcers:a primary reinforcer is one that satisfies a biological need (i.e., food). A secondary reinforcer is also known as a conditioned reinforcer, it is a previously neutral stimulus that has become reinforcing to an organism through association with another reinforcer. Examples of secondary reinforcers are praise, grades, money, and feelings of success. Source

Being skeptical of your assertion that Dr. Pepperberg does not use food reinforcers, and thinking I had seen food given as reinforcement in videos with her, I did a little digging. Here is an excerpt from her article Development of Piagetian Object Permanence in a Grey Parrot published in The Journal of Comparative Psychology:

Quote:
The repetition tested Griffin's willingness to work: Failure to repeat an earlier task usually indicated motivational problems and separated such problems from an inability to perform a task. To maintain his motivation, we varied objects or foods between trials (except for task 5) and allowed him to eat the food or play with the toy he had
found (DonS & Dumas, 1987).


How do you know what the animal thinks is degrading and insulting? When I see animals being trained with positive reinforcement, they are eager to work for that reinforcer - praise, treat, or something else. You must agree that dolphins are incredibly intelligent animals, yes? Is the training used with dolphins then also degrading and insulting? The use a whistle that serves exactly the same function as a clicker, and they use food-based reinforcers.

I have yet to see a published article stating that the use of food or other primary reinforcer somehow debases an animal’s intelligence. However, there are plenty of articles, scientists, professional trainers, associations, etc. that advocate the use of food reinforcers. If there were ethical problems, I would think any number of professional organizations would have come out with statements against the use of food.

Here’s a great article on motivation:

What’s In It For Me?

One on behavior by Dr. Susan Friedman:

The ABCs of Behavior

There are also a number of great articles on ABA in the Applied Behavior - Case Studies forum.

I’m guessing others have responded to this at the same time, so I apologize for anything that may be repetitive.

And finally, and at the risk of causing a stir, tapping a beak with an object is not an example of positive reinforcement, and some may argue that action as one that disrespects and degrades the animal…


The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.
Theodore Roosevelt
#194160 - 02/26/09 04:53 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Mythree2s]  
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Well said Bev and JJ!!! I couldn't agree more.


Birds are angels who lift us up when our own wings forget how to fly.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world - indeed it is the only thing that ever has!" ~~~ Margaret Meade ~~~

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#194170 - 02/26/09 05:56 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: ParrotPerson]  
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Quote:

I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea of rewarding with treats and I usually don't suggest it to others either. When you're dealing with an animal who has been domesticated for generations over thousands of years, and who's IQ is the size of a peanut, then clicker training is a great method to use. People who respect birds, though, respect their intelligence. To use this same method on a bird can be considered degrading and insulting.


Oh trust me, if Fergus didn't like the way I trained him, he would have simply jumped on me and bitten my face.

No other training method worked with Fergus, and he had gone through many, many homes due to his aggression. Clicker training him reduced the aggression and he learned to trust people and could have much more freedom.

Also, no one who has ever met me thinks that I have anything but respect for animals.

And, domestic animals like dogs and horses can be very intelligent. They don't have the IQ of peanuts. Why else can dogs be trained to do complicated search and rescue work? I've also worked with horses smart enough to untie knots and open gates. Domestic pigs are smarter than they are ever given credit for.

Quote:

Dr. Irene Pepperberg has proven time and again in her studies with Alex, how intelligent a bird can be. Her reward while teaching Alex wasn't in the form of snacks, but in the mental stimulation that was provided by performing those actions.


No, he was rewarded with the objects he was being asked about. Often, when he was given the object, he would drop it and ask for a nut. He asked for nuts a lot, actually. In a lot of videos I saw of him, he'd toss an object he was given and ask for a nut. In this case, the bird could tell people what he wanted. He often wanted a nut.

Quote:

Dr. Jan Hooimeijer is also a large supporter of rewarding their intelligence rather than their stomaches. He doesn't give a bird treats if they do something good, he simply praises them and continues offering more challenges. He also sets them up for success - takes a behavior already offered by the bird and converts it into a wanted behavior.


Praise doesn't work with all birds and it often does not work with birds that have been mistreated and that are terrified of people. Why would a bird that panics at the site of a person want to work for praise? I've worked with birds that are frightened by praise and in that case, yes, food works. After the bird has learned to associate people with positive things (food) then he may learn to like praise.

As I wrote, different birds enjoy different reinforcers. Some do like praise or toys. For some, food is best. And the best part of training with positive reinforcement is that the bird does not have to participate. In the way I train, the bird is *always* free to ignore me. Somehow, they rarely do. If they somehow thought the way I train is degrading, they could not participate and I always give them that option. They are not forced to work for food because they always have food in a dish available.

In face, some studies show that animals often prefer to work for food and will work for food that's freely available in a dish. This is called "counter free-loading."

Clicker training a bird does not mean that he never gets to be challenged. All my birds enjoy their training sessions, but they also get a huge assortment of toys and opportunities to forage. They get lots of social interaction as well.

Last edited by Garnet; 02/26/09 05:57 PM.
#194171 - 02/26/09 06:00 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Mythree2s]  
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Originally Posted By: Mythree2s

And finally, and at the risk of causing a stir, tapping a beak with an object is not an example of positive reinforcement, and some may argue that action as one that disrespects and degrades the animal…


I've always wondered if there was a bit of negative reinforcement going on there. Name the object, and it won't bump you on the beak anymore...

(Good post, by the way)

#194587 - 03/02/09 11:09 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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One thing that suprised me in reading about Irene Pepperberg's work was that occassionally she not only used food as a reinforcer, but candy! She said that a piece of candy now and then wouldn't hurt Alex, and that he loved it. I remember her suggesting to a student that she offer him "a bean", and she meant a jelly bean! She actually sometimes gave Alex a jelly bean.

I have had a blue and gold macaw for a quarter century and it would never have occurred to me to give her candy because I thought it would be dangerous. I still don't think I would do that very often. But when Easter comes around, if I have any jelly beans maybe I'll offer one to her and see if she likes it.

(I have heard, however, that chocolate is toxic to birds!)

#194642 - 03/03/09 03:43 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Jurate]  
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Refined sugar is also terrible for them. I would avoid the jellybean! Cassie got into the sugar bowl once and took a good bite of pure sugar. She was very hyper for awhile after wards. I now have one of the old fashion sugar pourers that you see in the diners.
Nancy


Nancy & Cassie BE2
#196062 - 03/17/09 09:53 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: BE2Cassie]  
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Very interesting article. I have never tried clicker training but maybe it would help with aggression behaviors this time of year and maybe not. My BFA is the challenge as my M2 always seems to be the steadfast friend even though he loves his flower pot. I do have to take it from him so he doesn't go totally crazy filling it up with everything.


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#225175 - 09/10/10 02:42 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: BE2Cassie]  
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Great guide, Garnet! Thanks for posting that here, it discusses clicker training. I know it will be helpful to anyone who are interested in clicker training.

#237606 - 09/03/11 06:07 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: BE2Cassie]  
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I have a peir of toy castanets that work pretty well. . .and also found a clicker at a "Dollar store". It's not the "professional model" of course, but it makes a nice firm loud "click".


Jody
#244855 - 05/18/12 03:12 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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I have a Moluccan Cockatoo approx. 15 yrs. old and am using the clicker training but once he sees even a small cockatiel size perch only about 4 inches long he ruffles up and scared so I stop until he settles down but doesn't until I put down. Taking small steps at a time. Will not give up. Hope I'm moving in right direction. Thank you.

#244865 - 05/20/12 05:30 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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P&C, try a smaller target, moybe, or a different shape. I've used a little bamboo skewer for my cockatiel; he finds anything much larger intimidating. And I keep it in my hand while "loading" the clicker, so he gets the idea that it's connected to the oats and cashews. He still thinks I ought to start from the very beginning each time, though. (rolling my eyes)


Jody
#250042 - 01/01/13 08:10 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parrots. [Re: Garnet]  
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I just ordered Cliker Training for Parrots and a set of clickers from Amazon. Can't wait to get started! I am really hoping this is a great thing for Chico since so far he only allows me to handle him and we still have about a 50% sucess rate on not getting bit on the step up.


Chico's new mommy ♥
#250488 - 02/03/13 08:28 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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Ok this may be removed but here goes. I have a beautiful U2 intelligent too. I also own a German Rottweiler. He does NOT have the IQ of a peanut. He is highly skilled and trained. I know this is a bird sight and I adore my Mina. I think just should be said some of these animals with peanut sized IQ's save our lives and hunt for our lost children everyday. Sorry if I stepped on toes. Great article Garnet. I have one question I hope someone can help with. Mina attacked my hands with the clicker. Tried to hide it but she crawled all over my arms and hand biting till I proved I didn't have it. This has happened several times now. She would do the same to a pen as well. Any words of advise please

Last edited by Mina'smom; 02/03/13 08:51 AM. Reason: Add question

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#250558 - 02/07/13 01:52 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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Reminds me of part of the thing about, "it's mine". "If it's yours, and I have any interest in it at all, it's mine"! That's evidently her attitude! Is it safe for her to have? That is, could she hurt herself with it, by breaking off and perhaps ingesting a piece? If not, can you find a substitute toy that makes a similar sound? A small rock inside a plastic egg, perhaps?

I use my mouth to make the click sound when I'm training, so they will NOT have the distraction of a noisy toy.


Jody
#250573 - 02/07/13 06:31 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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I have started clicking with my tongue. Thanks JM47. It's working!! That and pine nuts and we are now training.


If there ever comes a day when we can't be together,keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever.
#250591 - 02/08/13 05:35 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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GOOD for you!


Jody
#255853 - 06/25/14 04:25 AM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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Does anyone have any recommendation on what kind of snacks I can try if my u2 doesn't actually eat the treat? I have tried almonds which she goes for but drops all the time. I was thinking of using cookie crumbs because she loves those but I'd prefer something a little healthier if possible.. I'm really looking forward to clicker training with Einstein but I need to find a reward that's effective!

#255863 - 06/25/14 04:04 PM Re: Clicker Training to help calm Aggressive Parro [Re: Garnet]  
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The treat should be relatively small and quick to eat. I won't base Scooter's diet on things that aren't too healthy, but the reward MUST be something that the animal REALLY wants or it loses value. I use treats that I don't normally include in hit diet.
My list sounds awful, but keep in mind that it is only a tiny portion of his daily intake. My vet knows about it and approves, she told me that Scooter is one of the friendliest and best behaved Cockatoos she see's. In fact, I'm still trying to get Scooter to forage (rather than dismantle all the screws in the toy and toss the treat inside at me in disgust) and she told me to use something he just can't refuse, like a gummi bear, a frosted cookie, or a cool ranch Dorito. (She also tells me that dismantling the toy IS foraging, it's just doing it the hard way, he's probably bored.) I was trying to use healthier treats like nuts and dried fruit.

Keep portion size in mind - Scooter is almost a kg. Use smaller pieces for smaller birds. Bird Brain has a sweet tooth:
grapes
berries
almonds - in shell (he LIKES taking them apart)
mini-jelly beans
mini-gummi bears
a portion of a starburst
small slice of hot dog
corner of a cool ranch Dorito
small chunk of steak
small piece of graham cracker
small piece of a cookie
corner of a frosted fruit pop tart
large sunflower seeds - in shell

Once again, these items are NOT a regular part of his diet, but rewards when he's being particularly good.
We've had a particularly challenging week, and his weight is down, so I've been giving him a mini-lollipop when he let's me examine him and administer his antibiotic. I have to talk to him and slowly start preening his head after the ordeal, if he's too wound up he'll toss anything I give him back at me in disgust.


Nothing is so strong as gentleness,
Nothing so gentle as real strength.

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